Russia is open to freeing Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap

The Kremlin says it is open to speaking a couple of commerce for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner. It warned Washington towards utilizing the media in negotiations over a swap.


Brittney Griner might get her freedom but. On Thursday, a Moscow courtroom sentenced her to 9 years in jail for carrying lower than a gram of hashish oil into Russia the place she performs skilled basketball throughout the WNBA’s low season. But there are hints Moscow and Washington could also be shifting towards a attainable prisoner swap that would free her. NPR’s Charles Maynes has been following the trial and joins us from Moscow. Thank you for being with us.


SIMON: First of all, you have been within the courtroom when that verdict was learn. What was that like? What was Brittney Griner’s response?

MAYNES: Well, you realize, Griner has been actually composed all through this ordeal, no less than from what I’ve been capable of observe, which made moments the place she will get emotional reasonably placing like in her ultimate assertion to the courtroom on Thursday when she expressed regret for what she known as an trustworthy mistake that she stated had embarrassed supporters not solely within the U.S., but in addition in what she known as her second dwelling, along with her group UMMC Yekaterinburg, or Ekat as she calls it for brief, right here.

BRITTNEY GRINER: I wish to apologize to my teammates, my membership UMMC, the followers and town of Ekat for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I introduced onto them.

SIMON: You can definitely hear emotion in her voice.

MAYNES: Yeah. And, you realize, as to the decision itself, in fact, it was a blow. The decide confirmed little curiosity within the protection’s arguments for leniency, ignoring Griner’s responsible plea, her contributions to Russian basketball, or the truth that the hashish oil was issued legally within the U.S. by a health care provider for power ache and that Griner had by no means failed a drug take a look at. You know, none of that mattered. The decide issued a nine-year sentence simply shy of the utmost.

SIMON: Of course, President Biden condemned the ruling and says Brittney Griner is a political pawn. Yesterday, each Secretary of State Blinken and his Russian counterpart advised the 2 sides are prepared to speak a couple of prisoner swap. What will we learn about that?

MAYNES: You know, Secretary Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been each in a gathering in Cambodia this week. And there, Lavrov was requested about Griner and stated, look, a diplomatic channel for prisoner exchanges exists already. President Biden and President Vladimir Putin agreed to at least one again in 2020. And Lavrov stated Russia stays open to discussions there supplied they’re out of the general public eye. Now, individually, Blinken stated, OK, that is the place we’ll press our case. But Lavrov additionally took a dig at Blinken saying, if Griner is so vital, why did Blinken ignore me as we sat just some toes from each other at conferences? And it simply speaks to the animosity within the U.S.-Russian relationship as of late whilst they attempt to, in concept, minimize a deal.

SIMON: Charles, any feeling of what the time may very well be like – weeks, days, months – earlier than a swap could be labored out?

MAYNES: Yeah, it is robust to say. I imply, the U.S. made what Blinken calls its substantial proposal to Moscow weeks in the past. That’s to free Griner and one other jailed American, former Marine Paul Whelan. By all accounts, that includes the discharge of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms supplier presently in jail in Illinois. But the Kremlin, nonetheless, has insisted that Griner’s trial first needed to run its course, which brings us, in fact, to the current.

But there are complicating elements right here. You know, for instance, Griner’s legal professionals say they’re going to pursue an enchantment, however does that maintain the trial alive within the eyes of the Russian authorities? Also, the bigger situation – is Russia really open to the U.S. provide because it stands? It’s not misplaced on the Kremlin that President Biden faces intense public strain to get Griner dwelling. Moscow is reportedly urgent for a second Russian nationwide to be included within the alternate over U.S. objections and – you realize, which means that the Kremlin could also be testing simply how badly the White House wants a deal.

SIMON: NPR’s Charles Maynes in Moscow, thanks a lot.

MAYNES: Thank you.


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